There were a couple of disturbing things about the local elections in Palo Alto.
First was the unprecedented amount of union support for two of the city council candidates — Sid Espinosa and Yiaway Yeh.
The powerful South Bay Labor Council, an alliance of more than 70 unions (primarily public employees), became unusually and untraditionally active in support of these two of the 11 council candidates. The labor council got involved in phone drives (I received two, myself), precinct walks and mailings of fliers for Espinosa and Yeh.
I can only speculate that they want to fight two issues that emerged this past year in Palo Alto — privatization and prevailing wages.
The city already is asking some private gardening companies to help maintain the parks, instead of assigning the task to city employees (who are also union members). The city saves money by going the privatizing route, since it doesn’t have to worry about health and retirement benefits. And an examination of the parks by City Auditor Sharon Erickson showed no discernable difference in how well park lands are maintained.
But the union doesn’t like privatizing.
Unions also want a prevailing wage policy for the city, which means that any private firm must pay wages on par with the legally defined prevailing wages. However, charter cities, such as Palo Alto, aren’t required to pay the state-mandated prevailing wages for projects that are considered “municipal,” rather than regional. Typically prevailing wages are higher and cost the city more money.
Two years ago local unions supported two council candidates, both of whom were elected — John Barton and Peter Drekmeier.
One of the winners this year, Pat Burt, did not accept any union donations. Good for him!
It was a low voter turnout Tuesday, especially for the council race. Espinosa, who had the overwhelming support of the local “establishment,” garnered the most votes — 6,408. But top vote-getter in the school board race was Barbara Klausner, who had 8,922 votes – 2,500 more. Those numbers reflect the ho-hum attitude in this city toward the council race — few issues emerged, and people kept on asking each other who they were voting for, since the choice was murky.
Of interest to me was Measure N on the ballot, which asked Palo Altans if city officials should approve a 2.5-million-gallon, 150-foot diameter underground reservoir under a portion of El Camino Park, across from Stanford Shopping Center. Some 9,436 voters said yes, and only 865 said no. The vote was advisory
What disturbed me were three things: 1) there was no mention of cost, but if the council adopts this, our water bills will go up, as in way up. 2) a mailing from the city with information about the measure only listed the advantages, and absolutely no disadvantages, and 3) the mailing made it sound like the only issue was location of the reservoir, not whether we should build a reservoir near the downtown. The mailing was misleading.
I don’t think our tax dollars should be used by the city to push a point of view on something ultimately we residents will have to pay for.
I also hope the council does not interpret this vote as overwhelming approval for the reservoir, since money was not mentioned.